Amusement park: Puppet Show

Amusement park: Puppet Show

The sound of lively music greeted Amalia and Jesus as the merry-go-round slowed to a stop. The fast, happy notes hinted at something fun that was about to happen, and Jesus and Amalia decided to check it out. Along the way they walked through drifting scents of popcorn, barbecue grills, and funnel cakes.

“Mmm… that’s smells delicious! Can we get something to eat next?” Amalia asked, taking a big sniff.

“Sure.” Jesus grinned at her as her stomach gave out a loud rumble. “Sounds like your stomach agrees with your nose.”

A few minutes later, they found a group of chairs lined up in front of a curtained stage. Some of the chairs were occupied by a few people, but most chairs were empty. Jesus led Amalia to a couple of chairs in the first row. Just as they sat down, the music stopped, the curtain opened, and a man walked to the center of the stage.

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen! I am thrilled that you are here! We have a special treat for you today. The Teppup family has invited you to join them as they work in their garden. Mr. Teppup is digging up the ground with the help of his older daughter, while the younger two kids are helping their mother with the flats of small plants. It seems they are having a wonderful family bonding experience…” The man hesitates as the sound of yelling comes from behind the curtain. “Or maybe not. We’d better go see what’s happening.” He motions to the curtain, which opens as he backs his way off stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Teppup family!”

Amalia smiled when she saw the family. She loved puppets! This was going to be great!

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“I want to plant the purple flowers!” yelled a small girl. “Purple is my favorite color!”

“No, I chose them first, so they’re mine!” the smaller boy yelled back while grabbing the flowers out of her hands.

“Mo-om! Make him give me the purple ones!”

“That’s enough. From both of you. I’LL decide who plants what. Right now I want you to work together to get all the plants out of the flat regardless of the color of the flowers.”

With some grumbling, and a little pushing, the kids got back to work. The mother sighed, “Those kids must hate me. They’re always making my life hard,” as she turned around and continued removing the small plants from her flat. Sometimes she could slip the plant easily from the flat, loosen its roots, and lay it on a tray. But more often the plants didn’t come out without a lot of tugging, shaking, and prodding. And these plants didn’t always make it out in one piece. Mrs. Teppup got increasingly frustrated and began complaining against people who pack plants in stupid flats that make it impossible to get the plants out without damaging them. Suddenly a squeal erupted from behind her, and she turned just in time for a small plant to crash into her face. The kids, covered in dirt, were pointing to each other.

 “It’s her fault!”

“He did it!”

“No I didn’t ! You did!”

Mrs. Teppup groaned, and then said, “Both of you – get inside and clean up. And don’t come back out until you can get along.” She picked up the tray, took one last look at the mess her kids had made, then walked to the garden plot her husband and older daughter had just finished tilling.

“How’s it going over here?” She asked as she set the tray on the ground.

“From the sound of it, better than it’s going over there with you and the kids.”

“Yeah,” the older daughter agreed. “Those two are always a pain.”

“I didn’t say that,” Mr. Teppup said. “I said…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mrs. Teppup interrupted. “Let’s not get into another debate. Is the ground ready?”

“Yes it is. And we did good, didn’t we dad?” the girl answered.

“It’s perfect,” he said as he touched the dirt. “You can start planting whenever you want.”

“Aren’t you going to help?” Mrs. Teppup, eyebrows raised, looked from father to daughter.

“Um… I thought we just had to dig up the weeds…” the girl said. “I… have some… things I need to do.”

“And the football game is about to start,” Mr. Teppup said. “You knew that.”

“But I thought… forget it. You do whatever you want. I don’t need you.” She bent down, picked up a plant, and shoved it into the dirt. In a low voice, she grumbled, “They’re just like everyone else – always letting me down. They…”

 

Amalia stopped listening and turned to Jesus. “I thought this was supposed to be funny. But it’s not. I don’t want to watch anymore. Can we leave?”

“I agree with you. Let’s go.”

They got up quietly, and headed back towards the food area. As they walked, Jesus asked Amalia a question.

“What was Mrs. Teppup’s main problem?”

Amalia wasn’t sure. “Her family?”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because the kids kept fighting and her husband and older daughter left her to plant the flowers by herself.”

“I’m sure Mrs. Teppup would have agreed with you. But think a little deeper. What was really happening?”

“Well, the kids each wanted the purple flowers… Mrs. Teppup was complaining about everything, and Mr. Teppup and the older daughter wanted to go do their own things… so… maybe they were all thinking about themselves, and not each other.”

“Right. What should Mrs. Teppup do about that?”

“Trade them in for new family members. Or treat them like they are treating her, and not do anything for them.”

“Really?”

“I guess not. Maybe have a family meeting. She could tell the others how she feels when they act that way.”

“That’s a good idea. But there’s an even better, more important, one.”

Amaila thought, but couldn’t come up with any other ideas that topped this one. “I give up. What?”

“Mrs. Teppup’s struggle is not really against her husband and children. It’s against the unseen puppeteers who are controlling the strings. So she should pray. ”

Amalia laughed. “Of course! They are just puppets!”

“But it’s kind of like that with people, too. There are spiritual forces influencing how people act. These forces don’t actually control people like the puppeteers control the puppets, but they can influence people to think and act in ways that may bother other people. Or may make someone feel more bothered than they should be.”

“So Mrs. Teppup should look past what she sees to what she can’t see, and pray?”

“Exactly.”

“But pray what? That God makes her family act better?”

“Well, if she prayed that God changed their hearts, including her own, to be turned towards Him, and if she looked for ways to share His love with them, the end result would be a more loving family.”

“But what about the spiritual forces?”

“God will fight those battles for her, if she trusts Him to do so, and doesn’t try to do it on her own.”

“One more question,” Amalia said, sniffing the air. “Can we go eat now?”

 

 

 

Scripture

Eph 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

2 Cor 10:3-5 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Philippians 2:4  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

Amusement Park: Haunted House Ride, Seventh Room – Bumps

Amusement Park: Haunted House Ride, Seventh Room – Bumps

Amalia was pleasantly surprised to find herself in another beautiful room. The murals that were painted on the walls, ceiling, and floor were so realistic that she felt as if they were on a gently winding country road lined on both sides by trees, lush green fields full of colorful flowers, and, in the distance, glistening blue lakes. She could even hear the sounds of birds calling to each other, feel a breeze on her face, and, every now and then, she could hear the babbling of streams flowing over rocks. Amazing what technology could do. This room was more in line with what she expected a haunted house ride should be. Everything was explainable. She sighed. This is how a ride with Jesus should be.

Grateful for the chance to rest after the strenuous climb of the previous room, Amalia settled back in her seat. She closed her eyes, and let the vibration of the car running smoothly on the track lull her into a dream state. She heard Jesus’ voice a few times, but it seemed to be coming from so far away that she easily dismissed it in favor of her delicious drowsiness.

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The car gave a sudden lurch as if it had clattered across something in its path. Amalia opened one eye, but, not seeing anything to worry about, closed it again. Whatever the bump was, it wasn’t something to be concerned about. But then they went over another bump, and another. Each time the bump seem to be larger until Amalia was disturbed enough to open her eyes and sit up.

“Jesus, what’s going on?”

“Just some bumps.”

Amalia frowned. “Those bumps are messing up our ride.”

“Really?”

“Yes, they’re very uncomfortable. Can You make it stop?”

“What? The ride?”

Amalia stared at Him. “Jesus, You know what I mean. Make the bumps stop.”

“Why would I do that?”

“So they aren’t bothering us.”

“They aren’t bothering Me.”

“Fine. So that they’re aren’t bothering ME. Every time I start to fall asleep, we hit another bump, and I’m wide awake again.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Of course that’s a problem! I’m tired after the last room, and it felt good to close my eyes and let my mind drift. I can’t do that if we keep running into uncomfortable bumps. Will You do something?”

She watched, but nothing changed. The bumps were still there, and Jesus didn’t seem to do anything as they collided with yet another one. She turned back to Him. “If You’re not going to do anything, I will. I’ll go move those bumps myself.”

“You can if you really want to, but then you won’t be riding with Me.”

Amalia looked down at the bumpy track, then back at Jesus. She didn’t want to leave Him, but she also didn’t want to deal with a bumpy ride. “Why can’t You get rid of them?”

“I could if I wanted to, but it’s not necessary.”

“But…”

“Amalia, you have a choice. You could walk on your own, handling the bumps yourself, or stay with Me. The bumps are part of staying with Me.”

“But, riding with You should be easy and smooth. Why do we have to deal with these bothersome bumps?”

“Why do you think riding with Me is supposed to be smooth? I never told you that.”

“But, You’re God. You can easily make the way smooth. And You..  You…” Amalia thought hard. “You promised to always take care of me. Isn’t making my way smooth part of taking care of me? Besides, You love me. Don’t You want me to be happy?”

“Full of joy, yes. But happiness? That’s so conditional on circumstances. So no, some things are more important than your happiness.”

“What in the world are You talking about?”

“Exactly. You are in the world, and bumps – or problems – are part of that world. They are going to happen. I could remove them, but instead, I use them for your good. And sometimes I even put them there to slow you down, or to get your attention. What were you doing before we started hitting the bumps?”

“Um… I think I was falling asleep.”

“Were you thinking of Me? Talking to Me? Listening for My voice?”

“No, not really.”

“And what did you do as soon as you couldn’t ignore the bumps anymore?”

“I sat up, and asked You about them.”

“Right. You started interacting with Me again. So the bumps served to get your attention back on Me. Don’t get frustrated. Know that they are there for a reason.”

Amalia thought about that for a while. Then another thought came to her. “What if someone else put a bump there to hurt me?”

“It doesn’t matter. Whether I put the bumps there or someone else, I use them all for your good. You may not always understand their purposes, but you can trust Me and My love for you. I only want good for you even if it doesn’t always look that way to you. As you learn to accept the bumps, you will grow in patience and endurance. And you will learn to be full of joy no matter the circumstances. And that’s more precious to Me at this time than your comfort. So… you have a choice: you can handle them on your own, or trust Me to know what’s best for you.”

Put that way, Amalia resigned herself to a bumpy road. If Jesus wasn’t concerned the constant irritation of the bumps, she would try to accept it, too. This part of the ride wasn’t going to last forever. She wasn’t so sure of the joy part, but she could grit her teeth and be patient until they got to the next door.

They continue through that room, hitting bump after bump. Some Amalia could see coming, others took her by surprise. Eventually she began to learn to look to her Friend, trusting His wisdom each time they hit one, and, even more so, to enjoy the times between the bumps. She still didn’t like the bumps, but she didn’t let them destroy her enjoyment of the beauty of this room nor steal her joy of riding with Jesus.

And about the time she realized how much she had accepted the ride as it was and not as she wanted, they arrived at the next door.

She was at first blinded by the light that exploded around her as the door opened, and then realized it came from the sun. The real sun. And a fresh breeze caressing her skin. A real breeze, complete with the scents of heavy machinery, popcorn, and grilled burgers. They were outside!

When the car came to a stop, Jesus stood up, pulling Amalia up with Him. “So, what did you think?” He asked her as they climbed out.

“It was nothing like I thought it was going to be, but it was also way better than I thought it could be. You’re just full of surprises, aren’t You?”

“Always.” He smiled. “Ready for another ride?”

 

 

 

Scriptures

James 1:2-4  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for hose who are called according to his purpose.

Philippians 4:11-13  Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. I how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and very circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Psalm 16:11 You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Bear Attack (short story based on a dream I had)

“There’s a bear coming!”

I barely looked up from my sketch pad to the man that was careening towards us.

“Yeah, right,” I muttered. “Like there’re any bears around here.”

“A bear?” came high squeaky voice.

“Shh.” I shook my head at the small girl next to me. “It’s okay. Which color should we paint the flowers?”

The man was almost on us. “Run! Hide!”

“Aw, quit trying to scare us. We know there are no bears anywhere around here.”

“It’s a bear, I tell you!”

“I doubt it. Maybe you saw a bush. It is a bit windy today.” I studied my drawing.

“Believe what you want. I know what I saw.” He reached out and grabbed me.

“Ow, let go! You’re going to pull my arm right off!”

“Better your arm than your head if you’re still here when the bear gets here. And think of your little girl!”

The man’s eyes were wide open with eyebrows almost reaching his hairline, and his face was as white as the pages in my sketch pad.  Um… even if he didn’t see a bear, he definitely saw something. But grabbing me?

“Let go!”

“Suit yourself! Hide or don’t hide. Your choice,” he called over his shoulder as he ran towards the trees on the opposite side of the clearing from where he entered.

I looked around the campsite. A few tents scattered here and there, hiking gear set out on picnic tables, and a gazebo. If I wanted to hide from a bear, where would I go? I couldn’t just run into the woods after that man. My daughter wouldn’t be able to keep up, and I couldn’t carry her very far. The trees wouldn’t be any better. Even if I could get my daughter up one, bears can climb, too. The tents offered no protection should the bear follow its nose instead of its eyes. The only thing left was the gazebo – a wooden structure with three steps leading up…wait!

“Come on! I know where we can hide!”

I grabbed my daughter and ran to the gazebo. Yes, just what I hoped for!

“Quick, in there.” I pushed my daughter into the opening of the crawl space under the gazebo. Trying to hurry her, I backed in so I could watch for whatever the man had seen. And then I saw it.

Not only was it a bear, it was a very large grizzly bear. It was carrying a rifle and coming straight towards me. Dang, that bear moved fast! I grabbed a long branch that was lying nearby and held it out as if it were a spear. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

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As I waited, I had time for two thoughts. Would the gazebo have really offered safety? Couldn’t the bear just reach right through the holes in the boards? And where did it get the rifle? Maybe from a ranger?

Just as the bear reached me, it slowly toppled until it lay still on the ground. Dead.

What? How?

Then the pieces came together – that bear must have taken the rifle from the ranger it attacked, but not before the ranger got a few rounds into the bear. The bear was so big; it took a while for the rest of the body to know it was dead.

Isn’t that just like our problems? We see disaster coming. Fear rises up in us and we run or hide without realizing that our Father has already shot the beast. Even if that beast continues towards us, it will topple over before it reaches us. We are safe.

The Crab

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move. Which was strange because everything around her was moving. The water. The seaweed. The small broken shells. So why did this movement catch her attention?

Standing in the ankle deep water, she looked up from her search and saw a large dead fish moving towards her. So, that’s why, she thought. It was moving in a different direction than everything else. Instead of moving towards the beach, this fish was moving parallel to the beach.  But how was that possible? The rotting tissue covering the fish made it very obvious that it was dead. Then she saw the small crab pulling it through the water.

Wow, she thought in amazement. That fish must be ten times the size of that crab! And even though moving things through water is easier than on land, moving something that big is still a feat.

Then the crab saw her.

It let go of the fish and made a bee line towards her. She didn’t know crabs could move that fast! She wasn’t normally scared of crabs, and usually just ignored the ones on the beach. But this one seemed intent on reaching her. The thought of it grabbing her on to her toes was enough to send her flying out of the water and well past the breaking waves.

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Once she was safe, she turned around to watch it as it watched her. Satisfied that she was no longer a threat, the crab left. And when she was satisfied the crab was gone, she returned to the water and her search.

But she couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened.

Why had she run from that crab? She was much bigger than it was. She was much stronger than it was. She was much smarter than it was. Yet, she had had no other thought in her mind at that time than to get away from it.

And from the crab’s perspective, it hadn’t cared how big, strong, or smart she was. It didn’t want her there and took action to make her leave.

That’s kinda backwards, she thought. The crab should have been intimidated by her size and changed directions to avoid her. Or, at least if it was dumb enough to chase her, she should have just used her net to catch the crab before it got to her. Either way, she should not have been moved.

Just like the giants in my life, she thought. Problems come towards me and I run away. But I have Jesus inside me. He’s much bigger than any problem. He’s much stronger than any problem. He’s much smarter than any problem. I don’t need to run. Maybe I just need to remember to use the net of His Word to catch any problems that try to scare me.

As she prepared to leave the beach, she had a completely different thought. What if she was the crab?

Even though that crab should have been intimidated by her size, it wasn’t. It knew what it was and was ready to use all it had to defend what was his. If she knew who she was and was ready to use everything Jesus provides, could she be as brave as that crab? Could she go on the offensive towards threats in her life?

Not yet, she realized as she looked honestly at herself. But one day, as God continues His work in me, I will!

Life in a Swimming Pool

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The pool was filling up. Maybe she should leave now, before it got too crowded.  But not really wanting to leave the cool water, she decided to watch the people around her instead. Everyone was enjoying the water in different ways.

“Marco.” The voice caught her attention and she looked to her left and saw a young girl standing in water up to her chin, eyes closed, calling out, “Marco” every few seconds. Each time she called, several other children moving around her called back, “Polo.”  As she heard their responses, she would turn in their direction and, without opening her eyes, reach out to try to tag one of them. But she never moved from where she was. It reminded her of something she had read in Proverbs. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” That’s so much like us, she thought. There is wisdom all around us, and if we call out, we can hear it. But we won’t ever find it if we just stay put in one place and make half-hearted attempts to touch it.

Laughter caught her attention. She turned to look and saw some mothers and daughters playing keep away. They were laughing as they tossed a water ball back and forth, no one having very good aim, and teams changing places in the middle frequently.

“Keep away,” she muttered. “I hate that game. Either the players on the ends are too good at tossing the ball high over the middle person’s head, or no one really cares about the game and end up half-heartedly tossing the ball. There’s no good challenge either way.”

So why are they laughing?

She had to think about that for awhile. Maybe the kids are laughing because they’re so little and don’t really know anything about the game. They just enjoy being in the water and throwing a ball around. And maybe the moms are laughing because their daughters are laughing. Is that how God sees us? He takes delight in watching us enjoy His creation?

She watched another group play a game she wasn’t familiar with. Evidently, one person is a shark and calls out “Swim”, then tries to catch the other people (minnows) as they swim from one side of the pool to the other. Most of the time, the minnows would just start swimming as fast as they could hoping to out swim the shark but the shark was able to catch whichever minnow it was after. However there was one minnow who stood out. She would watch the shark intently , wait for the shark to go after a minnow, then move quietly in a different direction, staying as far away from the shark as she could. If the shark happened to see her, she would sink into the water, causing the shark to have more difficulty seeing her. Underwater, she could swim faster and when she emerged, she’d be ten feet away. Time and time again she got away from the shark using this strategy.

Now, that’s a whole like us and temptation, she thought. Most of the time when temptation arises, we either fall easy prey to it, or we try to use out own power to avoid it. It might work now and then, but eventually that shark is going to get us. We should be more like that wise girl. Stay as far away as we can, and, when that doesn’t work, dive deep into Jesus, allowing Him to cover us as we make our escape.

A loud cry from the other side of the pool brought her attention to a man holding a very little girl, trying to talk her into letting him toss her up and catching her. She cried each time he mentioned it. The mom called from the side to quit talking about it and just do it. So he did and the little girl laughed. He repeated it several times, delighting in her laughter. Then he tried to talk her into going underwater with him so he could toss her higher. She refused and began crying again.

So much like us and God, she thought. It’s probably why He won’t tell us all His plans for us. We’d be as terrified as that little girl and refuse every invitation He gives us. Yet, He knows how much we would enjoy it once we got past the fear.

She was intrigued watching a young girl chatting with her friend, totally ignoring a younger girl who kept hitting her with a water ball. How could she do that? She knew if anyone kept hitting her with something, she’d get irritated and angry. But then she thought, isn’t that what Satan does? Constantly hitting us with something to mess with our peace and cause us to get irritated and angry? “God,” she prayed silently, “help me be able to ignore the arrows Satan throws at me as well as this little girl is ignoring the ball being slammed on her.”

There was a man floating in the midst of all this, eyes closed, ignoring everything around him as he relaxed.

Now that’s the right idea, she thought. To be able to rest on Jesus and ignore all the problems around us would be amazing!

She was dismayed to see another group of people enter the pool. OK, now it was just getting too crowded. Regretfully she climbed out of the pool and prepared to go home. As she did, she had one final thought: “This is like how one day I will climb out of the swimming pool of life and head to my heavenly home!” She smiled.  “Only I’ll do so with way more excitement than I feel right now!”